Moroccan authorities urged voters on Thursday to vote “Yes” for a draft constitution seen to curb some legislative and executive powers of King Mohammed VI amid opposition alls for boycott.
“Moroccans tomorrow have a date with history,” L’Opinion, the newspaper of Prime Minister Abbas El Fassi’s conservative Istiqlal party, wrote in a front-page editorial.
“Participate and vote tomorrow for the new constitution,” it said.
Faced with protests modeled on the Arab Spring uprisings that ousted long-serving leaders in Tunisia and Egypt, King Mohammed VI announced the referendum this month to transfer some of his wide-ranging powers to the prime minister and parliament of the north African country.
Under the draft constitution to be voted on Friday, the king would remain head of state, the military, and the Islamic faith in Morocco, but the prime minister, chosen from the largest party elected to parliament, would take over as head of the government.
Throughout a brief campaign, the new constitution was fiercely backed by the country’s main political parties, unions, civic groups, religious leaders and media.
Leading newspapers on Thursday exhorted voters to head to the polls and vote “yes.”
“On Friday, July 1, citizens will go to the polls to participate in a referendum on adopting a new constitution that was made by the people and for the people, in the framework of the quiet revolution in our country and the democratic spring we are experiencing under the leadership of His Majesty the King,” L’Opinion wrote.
The pro-government Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP) party’s newspaper Liberation urged voters to say “Yes to the Constitution. Yes to the Construction of a Parliamentary Monarchy.”
Meanwhile, various opposition movements that have joined forces under the banner of the February 20 movement, continued their campaign against the plebiscite and calling people to refrain from voting on Friday.
In its Facebook page the movement published on Thursday several videos calling for a boycott of the referendum, whose outcome, they say, is predetermined. They described the constitutional reforms as cosmetic and said that the new constitution consolidates the “absolutist” nature of the monarchy.
In a statement posted on Facebook, the movement expressed its “rejection of the political game” and pledged to continue its protests.
Mohammed VI, who in 1999 took over the Arab world’s longest-serving dynasty, offered the reforms after the youth-based February 20 movement organized weeks of pro-reform protests that brought thousands to the streets.
The reform plan has been hailed abroad, with the European Union saying it “signals a clear commitment to democracy.”
Analysts say there is little doubt the new constitution will be approved after a brief referendum campaign dominated by the “yes” side and few signs of an organized “no” vote movement.
Along with changes granting the prime minister more executive authority, the new constitution would reinforce the independence of the judiciary and enlarge parliament’s role.
It would also remove a reference to the king as “sacred”, though he would remain “Commander of the Faithful”” and it would say that “the integrity of the person of the king should not be violated.”
The new constitution would make Berber an official language along with Arabic -- the first time a North African country has granted official status to the region’s indigenous language.
Voting will start in 40,000 polling stations across the country at 8:00 a.m. (0700 GMT) and polls will close at 7:00 p.m. Preliminary results are expected late Friday or early Saturday.
(Mustapha Ajbaili, a senior editor at Al Arabiya English, can be reached at Mustapha.email@example.com)